If this was Paul Konerko’s final at-bat as a White Sox player at soggy U.S. Cellular Field, it’s safe to say he went out in grand style Sunday night.
But even Konerko, who hit a seventh-inning grand slam, was upstaged in one of the craziest and dramatic victories in franchise history.
Scott Podsednik, who didn’t hit a home run in 507 regular-season at-bats, clubbed a homer off closer Brad Lidge with one out in the bottom of the ninth to give the Sox a 7-6 victory over Houston and a 2-0 lead in the World Series before a damp but delirious crowd of 41,432.
“It’s pretty indescribable,” Podsednik said.
His homer came after the Astros had tied the game in the top of the inning on pinch-hitter Jose Vizcaino’s two-out, two-run single off rookie closer Bobby Jenks.
“I didn’t think it would be that quick or on a homer by him,” Konerko said while smiling at Podsednik, whose teammates often rib him for his lack of power.
Instead, the Sox were flying high after Podsednik’s homer, the 14th walk-off homer in Series history.
The homer ignited a mass celebration at home plate in front of nearly all of a soaked sellout crowd that cheered for several minutes.
The loss was devastating for the Astros, who received six solid innings from left-hander Andy Pettitte but are uncertain about the status of Roger Clemens.
The 43-year-old Game 1 starter received an injection after straining his left hamstring and left Saturday’s game after two innings.
“We’re still in a day-by-day mode with him, but he’s pretty sore,” Houston manager Phil Garner said.
Of the 49 teams that have taken 2-0 leads in the Series, 38 have won the championship. That includes the last five, most recently the Boston Red Sox.
The White Sox have won six consecutive postseason games and 14 of their last 15 dating to the regular season.
But seldom has a victory been this dramatic. The Sox were facing the possibility of heading to Houston tied in the Series 1-1 and facing flamethrowing Roy Oswalt in Game 3 before a loud crowd at Minute Maid Park.
“They’ve done it before,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said of the Astros’ resiliency. “They had this happen [in the National League Championship Series] and blew the Cardinals out of the water with Oswalt on the mound.”
This was the second time in as many games that Lidge had allowed a game-winning playoff home run. But it was more incredible that he surrendered his homer on a 2-1 pitch to Podsednik, who started the game with a 10-pitch at-bat against Pettitte and has shown a knack for working counts in his favor in the postseason.
“This is a great guy,” Konerko said of Podsednik. “It couldn’t happen to a greater guy. Everyone likes Pods.”
Podsednik, aware of Lidge’s powerful fastball and dive-bombing slider, felt comfortable once he worked the count in his favor.
“It was a good pitch to hit, and I was able to drive it out,” said the recently engaged Podsednik, who said this was the greatest moment of his baseball career.
The Sox collectively said they were upset but not discouraged after Vizcaino’s hit.
“We have 25 guys pulling on the same rope,” said Podsednik, who homered in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Boston.
The Sox got a massive tug from Konerko, albeit after a controversial call that benefited them.
Trailing 4-2, the Sox loaded the bases in the seventh when plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled that Jermaine Dye had been struck on the hand by a high, tight 3-2 pitch from reliever Dan Wheeler.
Television replays seemed to show that the pitch had struck Dye’s bat and supported Garner’s brief argument.
Garner lifted Wheeler in favor of Chad Qualls, whom Konerko feared until he nailed the first pitch over the fence.
“He threw it right where I was looking,” Konerko said. “I wasn’t good all night. I don’t think I got in position to hit one pitch all night.”
Konerko, the premier power hitter on the free-agent market this winter, became the first Sox player and the 18th player in Series history to hit a grand slam.
The homer also aroused a crowd that had sat through a seven-minute rain delay and game-time conditions of 45 degrees and 10 m.p.h. winds that became more miserable.
Konerko, who hit 40 or more home runs and drove in at least 100 runs for the second consecutive year, extended his franchise playoff marks of five homers and 15 RBIs.